Friday, November 04, 2011

Mojitos, cigars and an ode to Hemingway in Washington D.C.

Bartenders poured mojitos for guests at the opening night of Hemingway's Bar. (WTOP/Alicia Lozano)

Friday - 11/4/2011, 12:01pm ET

Alicia Lozano, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Diplomacy can often be messy, but at opening night of Hemingway's Bar in Northwest D.C., it was nothing but good will and mojitos.

And cigars. Lots and lots of cigars.

The invite-only watering hole inside the Cuban Interests Section -- the equivalent of an embassy -- boasts a small yet impressive collection of historic photographs. Most of them involve Ernest Hemingway fishing, smiling and slapping Fidel Castro on the back. The two shared an affinity for marlins, a sporty fish with an elongated body and spear-like snout.

During his dedication speech, Mission Chief (ambassador) Jorge Bolanos told a story about Hemingway spending a day on the high seas with Castro and his then right-hand man, Che Guevara. The trio was so engrossed in their expedition that Castro missed a number of important meetings. When he finally surfaced, the communist dictator apologized for being late and joked that at least his fish was bigger than Hemingway's.

This was the birth of the Ernest Hemingway International Billfish Tournament, an annual sporting event that fancies itself a cultural bridge between the U.S. and Cuba.

The creation of Hemingway's Bar is billed in much the same way. Opening statements revolved around the writer's deep love of the island country -- he made Finca Vigia his home for some 20 years -- and of nurturing a cultural relationship between the historically hostile countries. No one mentioned embargoes or detainees.

"Hemingway clearly started his life as a full-blown American, but he really spent the last third of his life in Cuba and became more and more Cuban," said Jenny Phillips from the Finca Vigia Foundation. "It's that dual identity that allowed this project ... to become a cultural bridge. This is not a political bridge."

Bolanos called the bar a pet project, something he hopes will show people how much the two countries have in common -- including an iconic writer.

"Hemingway called Cuba his adopted nation, and donated the medal of the Nobel prize to the patron saint of Cuba," Bolanos said. "He had a very close relationship" with the country.

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